This race may become very hot. Not because of the amount of money that awaits the winner, but because of some indirect long-term implications.
I am referring to the new interest of African states in unmanned air systems.
While manufacturers from various countries eye this growing market, there are signs that there are two main competitors, and they are not just commercial ones.
African nations have become a major market for UAS, and Israeli manufacturers are making a big effort to increase their sales in that part of the world. The potential for the next five years is assessed to be around $500-600 million.
Sources in the Israeli industry say that in some African states the demand is for “first level” UAS, while in others the demand is for more advanced systems and advanced payloads.
Almost all the major Israeli UAS manufacturers have already sold their systems in Africa, and these are fully operational or in the process of gaining this status.
Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Elbit Systems and Aeronautics have sold UAS to Angola, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Tanzania.
These countries are now being offered advanced versions, while others evaluate basic models.
The increasing presence of Islamic terror organisations in Africa is the main element pushing demand up.
Earlier this year, the Israeli ministry of defence cleared the IAI Heron for export to some of the African nations.
However, Israel is not alone in this market. Recently, Denel Dynamics from South Africa has established an increased presence in many of the countries that have purchased Israeli-made UAS. The company is offering its Seeker 400 UAS.
The competition became even fiercer when Washington made a decision to equip some African states with hand-launched UAVs.
The most recent example is the deal with Kenya to equip its army with eight Raven UAS.
This deal is aimed at improving the Kenyan army’s capability to perform counter-terrorism operations, against terror groups mainly in Somalia.
Some officials in the Pentagon are angered every time Israel tries to export defence hardware to other countries.
In their logic a country such as Israel, which gets an annual foreign military funds (FMF) grant from the USA, should refrain from competing with American defence companies.
This has in the past created some very awkward situations and now, it seems, another one may develop in Africa.